Stimulating open innovation and investment in sustainable agrifood investment

World Food Forum/Global Youth – 17 October 2023

How can young disruptive thinkers gain access to the resources they need to test their ideas in real market conditions and potentially bring them to scale? The answer explored in this dynamic EBRD/FAO event held as part of the World Food Forum/Global Youth 2023 is to partner with large agrifood companies who are opening their doors to fresh ideas that are environmentally sustainable, and economically and socially inclusive.

The event followed the launch of two competitions by Migros Ticaret A.Ş and Savola Food Group at the World Food Forum 2022. The competitions have resulted in novel partnerships for open innovation between creative startups, young researchers and large agrifood businesses. Mr Mohamed Manssouri, Director, FAO Investment Centre, in his opening remarks, summed up the three takeaways for success that have emerged from the competitions as “partnerships, investment, and scaling”.

Expert speakers including from the FAO Office of Innovation, the EBRD Agribusiness Advisory, the Institute of Manufacturing and Kernel brought different perspectives to the discussion followed by the two competition winners who highlighted the opportunities and challenges that can arise when collaborating with large companies.

Opening doors to diverse partnerships – the push and pull

The idea behind open innovation is that agrifood companies invite fresh ideas and perspectives from external partners to help them alter traditional business models and stay up to date with global trends and challenges. In return, creative thinkers, for example, from small startups and academia, benefit from increased access to resources and markets to test their ideas and bring them to scale.

Letizia Mortara, Associate Professor, Institute of Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, explained how companies are realizing that opening their doors to knowledge exchange with external partners is a positive force for change and not a threat. “It is still early days though, with a steep learning curve ahead on how to ensure innovation ecosystems remain healthy, for example, with the right support structures and investments,” she said.

Examples of much-needed support structures and investments were highlighted at the event by Andriy Pishyy, Chief Innovation Officer, Kernel who spoke about the need to create organizational space to make mistakes as well as succeed, and the importance of feedback loops between different partners including farmers who will ultimately use and benefit from any new technologies and approaches.

Cortney Price, Lead Behavioural Scientist, FAO, stressed the importance of supporting employees to embrace new ideas including investing time and resources to understand how communication works in an organization to help people move forward during periods of change.

Testing ideas on the path to scaling

Speaking from the perspectives of a startup and young researcher, two innovation challenge winners spoke about the opportunities that collaborating with agrifood companies has presented as they work to test and evolve their ideas.

FreshSens, a startup developing a digital application to reduce post-harvest food loss, is working closely with Migros in Türkiye. “The support and feedback have accelerated our learning curve and given us a platform to validate our technology including testing the technology with the farmers which was priceless,” said Baran Baykurt Emiroğlu, CEO and co-founder.

Yasmin Maghraby, Assistant Professor of Chemistry from the American University of Cairo, is collaborating with Savola to develop a sustainable cooking oil product. She stressed the need for strong communication. “The training and mentoring schemes were beneficial throughout the different stages of the competition, as was Savola’s ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude,” she said.

Sowing the seeds of disruptive change

The agrifood industry recognizes that change is needed as market and consumer demands for more complex products with green credentials increase, complicated by challenges of production and distribution across the entire agrifood chain in the context of the climate crisis.

In her closing remarks, Iride Ceccacci, Associate Director, Head of Agribusiness Advisory, EBRD underscored the importance of diversity converging to change mindsets and foster new connections through knowledge exchange. “This event has highlighted how innovative partnerships, supported with the right sustainable agrifood investments and opportunities to scale, are starting to help drive the transformation that we urgently need,” she concluded.


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